Three days to spare for a long weekend break so why not fill it with adventure glamour and some fantastic slices of history thrown in. Breakfast in 1920’s London, lunch speeding through the War Horse fields of France, and dinner in the truly beautiful Belgium City of Bruges.
Britain has a long history of railway hotels and none can be better than the St Pancras Renaissance which has risen from the Midland Grand Hotel which died in 1935 and old British Railway offices which died in the 1960’s. It is a good job architect George Gilbert Scott had fans in high places as his gothic masterpiece narrowly escaped demolition. 150 years on the restoration even attracts guided tours including the Ladies Smoking Room first room in Europe that facilitated female public smoking the grand staircase once sat on by The Spice Girls for publicity photographs and the footprints of movies like Batman Begins and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets both using the interior as a backdrop to film action.
For your weekend book one of the Chambers Rooms in the old part of the hotel. Bit noisy as you sit by one of London’s busiest main roads and it could make your wallet wobble a bit but a great experience. Your room includes access to the Chambers club with a selection of complimentary snacks and drinks.
The hotel has managed to keep a refined railway feel and one of the most popular meeting areas combines the original pick up and put down areas for horse drawn taxis and black cabs. Now it is reception and a function hall. To eat try and fit in the Booking Hall some real Victorian style and elegance. The long long champagne bar is a treat too.
The Euro Star terminal now lives next door under another structure saved from destruction by bombs and builders. This is key to making the best of a short break. Forget Eurostar just being a trip to Paris or Brussels its tentacles now reach far. Bruges is on one of those tentacles.
I left London at just before 9am and including a simple train change in Brussels arrived in Bruges within three and a half hours. Check in airport style without the queues and where else could you join a theatrical French woman who talked so much she managed to force a businessman to flee the carriage and downgrade for some peace and quiet. On-board staff dealt with the situation in a charming and professional way. From July to September, you can travel Eurostar, with a change in Brussels to Cologne in about four hours or pop round to the European Parliament in Strasbourg from St Pancras it will take just over 5 hours. It is possible to get booked right through to your chosen destination on a Eurostar ticket.
Bruges remains a real gem of protected ancient buildings, cobbled streets, miles of canals and expensive horse and carriage rides. The fact that so much of its ancient structure is still standing is thanks to a wartime decision made by Immo Hopman Commanding Officer of the German Garrison defending Bruges. As allied forces advanced in 1944 Hopman took the brave decision to ignore an order to flatten the City. He also removed his forces by the back door so avoiding street battles.
To really get full value on limited time book a good local guide via the tourist office. I was lucky enough to be shown around by Bob Warnier author of a City Guide and a well connected former local tourism executive. Who else would have the retired head of the Belgium secret service stop for a chat? In just one small square decades of original buildings stand side by side which explains why the City centre was declared a World Heritage Site – it really is.
This small City has a population of around 117 thousand with 1.7million visitors each year. Its charms are no secret with for instance 1million tickets sold for boat trips around the canal system every year so to get more space for your money try and avoid real busy Summer times.
Great place to eat is The Lobster Pot. Need to book always busy smashing atmosphere and something on the menu for everyone. Helmstraat 3-5, 8000 Bruges. Telephone 0500 340086.
St Pancras Renaissance Hotel 020 7841 3540 / http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/lonpr-st-pancras-renaissance-london-hotel/
Train travel. eurostar.com